Around the Fringes: Bernard Foley
Photo: SPA Images
A Super Rugby debut must be a daunting but exhilarating experience for any young player. But making it in the pressure cooker of a semi-final, against one of the competition heavyweights in their own backyard, takes the term ‘baptism of fire’ to a whole new level.
That was exactly the scenario faced by versatile back Bernard Foley last year as the HSBC Waratahs bowed out of the Super Rugby competition at the hands of the Auckland Blues. Coming off the bench in the second half, he joined what always had the potential to be a losing battle given the list of high profile absentees on the night. But he does harbour one positive memory from the experience.
“I think there was a really good fifteen players that were injured or unavailable so that was definitely a tough game and a tough ask,” he recalls. “For a debut game, to play in a semi-final was pretty amazing – it’s what you always dream about. But I think the thing that was probably even more memorable was taking part in Phil Waugh’s last game. I remember growing up, watching that 2003 World Cup Final and Phil’s blond locks running around, so to play alongside him in his finale for the Waratahs was something really special.”
Eden Park was certainly a long way from the fields of Redfield College, home of the Redfield Lions, with whom Foley took his fledgling steps in the sport. Although, his first foray with an oval ball didn’t go down to well with everybody. “I think my first game was when I was about four-years-old, playing in my older brother’s team. Dad thought it’d be good for us to start together but when he went home and told Mum, she was so disgusted that he’d allowed me to play at such a young age, she didn’t talk to him for a while!”
Indeed, it was his Dad’s support and dedication to rugby and to the Redfield Lions team – he actually coached Bernard from under 6’s through to under 16’s – that paved the way for him to excel. “He spent a lot of time driving around picking up some of the other kids that were in the team, or calling around on a Friday night to see who’s available and trying to put together a side. So I suppose I have to put a lot of it down to him for being so passionate about us playing the sport, and for getting us involved.”
It also gave him a spooky glimpse of the future.
“My Dad’s name is Michael, so it’s quite weird having had him as a coach for so many years and now I’m being coached by another Michael Foley at the Waratahs. But he’s definitely no relation!”
After joining St Aloysius’ College in 2006, he played for two years in the first XV before joining Sydney University’s colts program, where he formed a halves combination with Wallaby scrum-half Nick Phipps. And it was his performance in a Grand Final for that side that landed him his big break.
“I got a call one afternoon at Uni from Aussie Sevens coach Michael O’Connor who’d been at the game, and he told me there was a camp starting the next day down at the AIS in Canberra, and was I available?” The rest is history, with Foley impressing enough to get the call up to the national squad, making his debut in Dubai in December 2009, and going on to be a part of the victorious side that triumphed in London – Australia’s first victory on the IRB Sevens circuit for eight years.
After earning a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi alongside Pat McCutcheon, he was made captain in 2010, playing the entire season before returning to club duties with Sydney Uni, which in turn led to his date with destiny in Auckland wearing the Cambridge Blue. His only concern now is becoming a regular fixture in the matchday 22 and settling on his chosen position, although any jersey number in the starting backline would suffice.
“I like playing full-back and having a bit more space but I do really enjoy playing at ten and trying to control the game. You get a few more touches and get your hands on the ball a bit more. In saying that, I played at twelve in the trial match against Samoa, so I’ll play anywhere if I have to, to get a start.”
One burning question remains. Is your Mum ok with you playing rugby now Bernard?
“Definitely – she loves the sport and she even has a few tips to give me after every game because she reckons she’s so experienced having watched 20 years of it!”
An edited version of this article was first published in the NSW Waratahs v Queensland Reds match program on February 25th, 2012